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One Year after Fukushima, We Must Escape Our ‘Nuclear Obsession’
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March 11 will mark the first anniversary of the accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima following a powerful earthquake in northeastern Japan.

Japan is still suffering from the damage inflicted by the accident. More specifically, it can be said without exaggeration that the country is still under a curse from which recovery appears scarcely possible.

Data issued at the end of February by Japan Meteorological Agency indicate that an estimated four becquerels of the radioactive material cesium had been released into the air due to the Fukushima nuclear accident.

The leaked cesium has seeped into ground and seawater, polluting crops, livestock and marine wildlife. Given that the half-life of cesium is said to be three years, the damage from radioactive substances will literally be passed on to future generations.

Because of this, only two of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors are currently in operation. Internationally, too, there is a growing movement toward reducing and, ultimately, abandoning nuclear power, with Germany pledging to shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022.

The Lee Myung-bak government, however, has made no change to its nuclear power plant renaissance policy and is promising to increase the proportion of Korea’s power supplied by nuclear energy to 59% by 2030 by building ten more reactors.

Last month, at a special press conference to mark the fourth anniversary of his taking office, Lee said Korea could become one of the top five nuclear power plant producers in the world by making 100% of its nuclear power technology indigenous by the end of this year.

Lee suggested that expanding nuclear power was the only viable option, claiming that even if renewable energy sources were developed, it would only be possible to determine whether they were economically viable in 40 to 50 years’ time.

The government has invited more than 200 individuals from the global nuclear power industry to the Nuclear Industry Summit that will be held at the same time as the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit at the end of this month, and is planning to promote Korea’s nuclear power industry.

The government’s anachronistic values in attempting to view nuclear power plants as a mere economic growth engine are not the only problem.

Testimonies from those involved have revealed that the National Intelligence Service had the National Institute of Environmental Research scrap a report at the end of March which claimed that low-concentration radioactive material from the Fukushima plant could reach Korea.

At the time of the accident, the Korean government stated that prevailing westerly winds would prevent radioactive material from being carried to the Korean Peninsula. Farcically, it threatened to block on-line claims that radioactivity had landed on the peninsula, regarding them as groundless.

The day after the nuclear accident at Fukushima, President Lee took part in the groundbreaking ceremony for a nuclear plant exported by Korea to the United Arab Emirates.

Suspicions that Lee has pulled the wool over the people’s eyes in order to avoid setbacks in nuclear plant exports run deep. How can the public trust a plan by this government to expand nuclear power?

Nuclear power cannot, of course, be scrapped all at once in Korea, given that the country’s energy supply system currently relies on nuclear to meet 39% of demand. At the very least, however, we must make efforts to ultimately move away from nuclear power, by developing renewable and alternative sources.

A report on alternative energy published early this month by a joint research team at the Institute for Climate Change Action predicted that Korea could reduce its per capita energy consumption to the OECD average and increase the proportion of energy supplied by renewables to 21% without building any more nuclear plants.

A government that devotes itself solely to the nuclear industry, which goes against current trends, and does not consider searching for growth industries that are both human- and environmentally friendly and can produce enormous wealth, can only be described at incompetent and reckless.

Nuclear power plants, which are beyond the control of humans, are every bit as dangerous as nuclear weapons. Even at this late stage, the government must take the warning given by Fukushima seriously and reconsider its policy of dependency upon nuclear power.

(Opinion, the Kyunghyang Daily News. March 9, 2012)

Copyright The Kyunghyang Shinmun. All rights reserved. Reproduction and redistribution without permission absolutely prohibited.

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